When a friend of Belinda Roller visited campus and told her that the interior of the Holmes Student Center looked just as he remembered it from his time as a student in the 1960s, she knew it was time for a change.
Actually, Roller, who works in NIU Architectural and Engineering Services, and others on campus have been looking at improving the facility since at least 2014 when the university embarked on a master planning initiative with the goal of activating and revitalizing the core of campus.
During that time, the Division of Student Affairs, the staff at the Holmes Student Center, student focus groups and some of the top consultants in the nation have focused on ways to modernize the building. From those efforts have emerged plans for a $20 million renovation. Construction is targeted to begin in the summer or fall of 2018 (pending NIU Board of Trustees approvals) and to be completed by the fall of 2019.
Highlights of the renovation, which will focus exclusively on the expansive ground floor of the HSC, include:
- A new glass entryway with an exterior tiered plaza opening from the ground floor to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commons
- Open and inviting lounge space featuring more natural lighting
- New and exciting dining options, including a sports-themed grill.
- A relocated and revitalized bookstore-retail outlet
- Relocation of NIU’s Campus Activities Board, Student Association and Office of Student Involvement & Leadership Development to the HSC
- A dramatic redesign of the Lucinda Ave. entrance to the building, providing direct access to the ground floor.
- Expanded entertainment and event space connecting the ground floor to the Huskie Den
“The overarching goal is to put student life back into the student center,” says Ian Crone, who manages the building. “We think these changes will make this a place where students will want to come for meetings, to eat and just to hang out.” He noted that the building will also be distinctively “branded” with NIU colors and images.
The design is still in progress, and is benefitting from the input of hundreds of students, faculty and staff who are involved in development of concepts and priorities. Representatives from the Student Association and the Campus Activities Board will continue to provide vital input.
The work is being paid for entirely by Build America Bonds, which can be used only for construction projects. The bonds were secured several years ago during a government stimulus program and do not create new debt. No tuition or fees are being used for the project. In fact, enhanced retail and dining operations will reduce the HSC’s reliance on student fees.
As a central gathering place for our NIU community, the HSC draws 4,000 visitors daily and hosts more than 6,200 events each year, including 2,100 events sponsored by student organizations. The building has served the campus community well but is in need of work to bring it in line with modern standards and expectations. The upcoming renovation will be the facility’s first major upgrade since it was originally built in the 1960s.
“It’s nice that students from 50 years ago can still feel connected to the building, but these changes will be a big step toward making the Holmes Student Center a place where today’s students can make their own memories,” says Roller.